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Zeroville Paperback – November 1, 2007
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"Erickson is as unique and vital and pure a voice as American fiction has produced."--Jonathan LethemA film-obsessed ex-seminarian with images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his head arrives on Hollywood Boulevard in 1969. Vikar Jerome enters the vortex of a cultural transformation: rock and roll, sex, drugs, and--most important to him--the decline of the movie studios and the rise of independent directors. Jerome becomes a film editor of astonishing vision. Through encounters with former starlets, burglars, political guerillas, punk musicians, and veteran filmmakers, he discovers the secret that lies in every movie ever made.
Questions for Steve Erickson
Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Could you describe where you are as you're answering these questions?
Erickson: At the moment I'm in my home office in Topanga Canyon, which I can see outside my window.
Amazon.com: How do you feel your fiction has changed over the years, beyond the changes that occur from acquiring greater mastery of technique?
Erickson: Well, being a novelist yourself, you probably understand this is something it's better for a writer not to think too much about. While I do believe I become a technically better writer over time, in others ways writing gets harder because inspiration is finite. On the other hand, though energy and inspiration diminish, experience grows--the theme of parents and kids, for instance, which lurked under the surface in earlier novels like Days Between Stations and Rubicon Beach and Arc d'X, has come to the forefront over the course of my last three novels including Zeroville, just because my own personal experience has become more first-hand.
Amazon.com: Because you've got more ways to tell a story now than when you were first published, does that also make it harder to write? Do you ever find yourself debating the merits of more than one approach to the same material?
Erickson: The material dictates the approach. I tell the stories in the way that feels natural to tell them. Certainly the last thing I want is to be "difficult." In my previous novel, Our Ecstatic Days, a lake has flooded Los Angeles and a young single mother believes it represents the chaos of the world that has come to take her small son. She dives down into the water to the hole at the bottom through which the lake is coming--and at the moment I wrote that scene, I had this idea she should "swim" through the rest of the novel, through the next 25 years of the story, and the reader sees this in the form of a single sentence that cuts through the rest of the text. A lot of people identified this as "experimental," but to me experimental fiction ultimately is about the experiment and I'm not interested in experiments for their own sake, and if anything I've always steered a bit clear of that kind of thing, because it seems gimmicky to play around with text rather than do the work of telling a story and creating characters. In the case of Our Ecstatic Days, it was just a way of conveying the world of that particular novel. A number of people have noted that Zeroville is more "linear" than the earlier novels but that was calculated only in the sense that I thought a novel about the Movies and why we love them (as opposed to a "Hollywood novel" about the movie business) should have the pop energy of a movie. People have mentioned how fast Zeroville reads--that's because I felt it should move the way a movie moves.
Amazon.com: What really sparked Zeroville? Was there a moment where you suddenly realized you had a story to tell?
Erickson: The idea was born in a short story I wrote for a McSweeney's anthology, but the novel really fell into place when the character of Vikar came into focus, when I got a handle on this guy who shows up in Hollywood in 1969 on what happens to be the day of the Manson murders, with a scene from George Stevens's A Place in the Sun tattooed on his head. He's identified by one of the other characters in the novel as not a cineaste but "cineautistic"--movies have become his religion after he's rejected the one his father imposed on him, and he sees movies through the eyes of an innocent. Once I had Vikar I had everything--the story, the approach, the perspective, the tone.
Amazon.com: How difficult was it to layer in all of the movie information that's in Zeroville? For example, you include several real movie people in the novel, sometimes anonymously so the reader has to guess who they are. Was that all there in the initial drafts?
Erickson: The whole novel wrote itself from beginning to end, including the film stuff. It was the easiest novel I've written. I almost feel like I can't take credit for it--it was like the universe said, Here, you worked pretty hard on all those other books, so we're giving you this one. You type, I'll dictate. If anything, when I went back over the novel, I took film stuff out. The stuff about movies had to support the story, it had to support the characters and be informed by them -- the novel couldn't just be a compendium of movies I happen to like. It's not a DVD guide.
Amazon.com: Did you know going in that this was going to be a very funny novel? And do you think reviewers have, in the past, missed elements of humor in your work, or is this new for you?
Erickson: I knew it was going to be funny once I knew who Vikar was. Once I knew we were going to tell the story pretty much from his vantage point, it couldn't help being funny. There are moments of humor in earlier novels like Tours of the Black Clock and The Sea Came in at Midnight that probably are so dry and dark that some people didn't understand they were funny. But with the exception of Amnesiascope, which generally is considered a funny novel, the humor usually hasn't been this overt.
From Publishers Weekly
Set primarily in Los Angeles from the late 1960s through 1980s, this darkly funny, wise but flawed novel from Erickson (Arc d'X) focuses on our collective fascination with movies. Vikar Jerome, whose almost deranged film fixation manifests itself in the images of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift tattooed on his bald head, wanders around Hollywood, where he gets mistaken for a perp in the Charles Manson murders and is robbed by a man who turns out to be a fellow film buff. After Vikar becomes a film editor, he's kidnapped by revolutionaries in Spain who want him to edit their propaganda film. Later, he wins a Cannes Film Festival award in France and receives an Oscar nomination, with strange consequences. Vikar repeatedly crosses paths with actress Soledad Palladin and her daughter, Zazi, though ambiguities in his relationship with this enigmatic pair, along with a recurring dream of his, derail this black comedy toward the end. The sudden point-of-view shift and possible supernatural element jar in an otherwise brilliant, often hilarious love song to film. (Nov.)
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The lead character's name is Vikar. Like all Erickson novels, he is a man obsessed; in this case with movies.
It helps if you are a movie fan. Some of the movie references are obvious and some are more obscure. You should definitely see "The Passion of Joan of Arc" and "A Place in the Sun" because they feature prominently in the plot.
I don't want to go anymore into the story because I don't want to spoil anything. Let's just say this obsession leads to searching for a hidden film that is contained in every film ever made which leads to one of the most bizarre endings of any novel ever. The ending makes the films of David Lynch seem tame by comparison.
"Zeroville" is mandatory reading for all Steve Erickson fans and is a great starting place for anyone who has never read any of his books. This is one of my all time favorite books. If you are looking for a unique reading experience, you should check this one out.
Anyway, after I read a few pages of Steve Erickson's latest novel, I almost tossed it into the circular file.
It's the story of a 24-year-old ex-seminarian named Ike Jerome AKA Vikar, who was sexually abused by his Calvinist father, and wound-up, at the beginning of the book, in a Downtown L.A. bus terminal. He strolls over to Philippe's "Home of the French Dip Sandwich" for something to eat. So far so good.
After an altercation with a dull-normal hippie, he catches a ride to the Vista Theater in East Hollywood and watches a badly scratched print of 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc', directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1928. The author noted that the Vista itself was built upon the demolished 1916 Babylonian set which DW Griffith created for his epic flop 'Intolerance'. (Joan of Arc & 'Intolerance'. Do you get the symbolism?) As a personal side-bar, I was Vikar age, and lived in East Hollywood in the year of his fictional arrival. And I certainly had walked by the Vista Theatre on more than one occasion. And folks, I'm sorry to report the Vista never was a revival house. It screened pornographic homosexual films in the late 1960s. As for the 'Intolerance' set, it was actually built a couple miles to the east on Sunset Boulevard where Public Television Station KCET now stands.
Then our hero walks over to the Kaleidoscope, a popular psychedelic nightclub on the corner of Sunset and Vine. Huh? That venue was never located there!
Next, he checks into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the same historic hotel that poor old forgotten film genus DW Griffith died in. Nonsense! Anyone who had ever took a junior college film history course would certainly know that DW died inside the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel, of a stroke, in 1948! Erickson must have hired one sloppy research assistant.
What finally saved the book for me was when Vikar had become a suspect in the Sharon Tate Murders after sleeping in a cave off of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, near the ruins of Houdini's mansion. Now finally, good ol' local boy Stevie Erickson has included something I can really relate to. This is how it went down for Vikar and me: A couple of West Los Angeles detectives stopped and asked for my identification at about the same time Vikar was being grilled for the same murders. Luckily, they let me continue on my way after one of them said cryptically to the other, "No, he's not Tex..." Tex Watson? Did they think I was Charlie Manson's right-hand man? Jesus! Meanwhile, our existential anti-hero was also being released, on his own recognizance, after being knocked-around inside the station.
Time passes and we find Vikar has improbably entered the showbiz industry. But hey, this is a fictional story. There he encounters a number of typical late sixties Hollywood biz types. Chief among them, Viking Man, a Sterling Haden-ish director. Then there's a biz outsider, a nameless Afro-American thief, sporting an afro--who was probably the greatest and most verbose film critic of the late twentieth-century on the entire West Coast. And then there's the painfully sad story of a long-suffering brilliant film editor named Dot, who takes Vikar under her wing. And last, but certainly not least, a neglectful fringe actress living with her pretty precocious daughter named Zazie--as in Louis Malle's: 'Zazie Dans le Métro'. (I once knew a mother/daughter duo almost exactly like Zazie and her self-indulgent mom, living up past Laurel Canyon Boulevard, in North Hollywood around the time of Elvis's death. She was an ex go-go dancer who married and divorced a famous former child actor.)
After achieving a modicum of success in the film industry, Vikar goes on a celluloid quest to discover the world-shattering truth behind 'La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc' and to commune with the Famous Gay Phantom of Suite 928.
Vikar's story ends with his final return to the Vista Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. I suppose I should let our guest speaker Lemmy Caution do the retrograde epilogue re the existential circle's closure, returning it to zero degrees. "Something that never changes with the night or the day, as long as the past represents the future, towards which it will advance in a straight line, but which, at the end, has closed in on itself into a circle." Hope that's cryptic enough for ye.
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I am typically not a fan of books that experiment with form.Read more